I found this remark from sociologist Kieran Healy very interesting:
Theory within sociology is in a strange position. Normally, the core ideas of a field–its theories–are what hold it together. But there are no longer any theorists in sociology. There are theories (or things people call theories); there are theory courses…But since the late 1980s or early 1990s there has been no occupational position of “theorist” within American sociology. No-one gets a job as a theorist…As a consequence, many people are not sure what, from a disciplinary point of view, theory in sociology is supposed to be any more, or how it should be done…
Question: to what extent is the same true of ecology?
I ask about “extent” because clearly it’s not entirely true of ecology. There are definitely still ecologists who are employed as theorists. But are (m)any being hired as theorists? As opposed to, say, “modelers” or “quantitative ecologists”? “Modeling” is not the same as theory. And basically no N. American tenure-track faculty positions in ecology and allied fields are advertised for “theorists”. And if theory is what holds a field together, well, it’s not clear that there are any ideas that hold ecology together: see here and here (and contrast evolutionary biology).
So, you tell me: are we ecologists better off than sociologists on this front? Are we still sure what, from a disciplinary point of view, theory in ecology is supposed to be any more, and how it should be done?